staying in touch with old coworkers, how to help a lonely boss, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Are offers to stay in touch with old coworkers really sincere?

I recently resigned from my first professional job post-university. I had been there nearly five years. Upon leaving, my manager and coworkers suggested things like “come back to visit sometime,” “feel free to drop by the office anytime,” “stay in touch and we’ll grab coffee,” etc. Are these invites sincere? If they are, I don’t want to shun them by not dropping by or staying in touch. But if they’re just meaningless platitudes, then I don’t want to be the clingy oddball who won’t leave her old boss and coworkers alone.

However, if they are sincere, how does one go about staying in touch with old job? How long do you wait post leaving to contact them? With what frequency do you stay in contact and go out for coffee?

They’re probably genuine. I mean, it’s also just a thing that people say when someone is leaving because it’s polite, but in most cases people are happy to follow through on it if you’re interested in doing that. It’s not an obligation — if you’d rather make a clean break, that’s perfectly normal too — but some people enjoy staying in touch with past coworkers and past offices, and that’s not weird to do. (It can also be really smart from a networking perspective.)

If you do want to take them up on it, typically it might mean getting in touch a few months after leaving for coffee or something along those lines. After that, you might meet up once or twice a year, depending on what you feel like. It really varies depending on the people involved, but monthly would seem like a lot, if that’s a helpful data point.

2. How to help a lonely boss

In January, I started temping as a lab technician. The labs are in the basement of a college and used for teaching students. In this basement, there is my office and my boss’ office. There are no other offices down here, and while there is some teaching being done in some of the classrooms, it is pretty quiet here outside of lab weeks.

This summer I was gone two months to work at a different summer job, but with an agreement to come back in time to prepare for the new term. I just came back recently, and I have just learned that in the two months I have been out of the country, my boss has been on sick leave most of the time. She confided in me that the isolation of our offices and the loss of her pet (both her sons have long since moved out and there is only her at home) contributed to her illness, along with killing herself with long hours.

She came back the same day as me, but only working half days and getting therapy. She also got a second desk up in the admin office so that she can ambulate between the two and get some more socialization throughout her work day. Of course, it is great that she is getting help, but I can’t help but feel for this lovely lady who is clearly going through a hard time. She has always been very kind to me and gives me great autonomy (not something often given to temps).

I want to help her. Initially, I thought I might invite her home to dinner with my partner, but is there anything else I can do? And is that even appropriate? I wanted to suggest rescuing a pet, but feel that might be overstepping a line. I know that to some, that sounds like saying that one pet is as good as the next, but that is really not my intention at all.

It’s really kind that you want to help her, but you also need to preserve professional boundaries. As an employee who she manages, you probably aren’t the right person to be inviting her to dinner at your home (although I don’t see anything wrong with asking if she’s considered another animal, if you want to).

Mainly, though, you shouldn’t start to feel responsible for her emotional well-being; it’s just not that kind of relationship, and if you start letting it become one, that can backfire for both of you. I know that that might sound callous (and certainly some people do successfully pull off social relationships with managers — they’re just more the exception than the rule), but your role in her life is employee, not friend, and that’s okay. Be a great employee, be kind and thoughtful within those boundaries, let her know that you appreciate her as a manager and a colleague, and keep things basically in that ambit.

3. Boss is pressuring employees into pushing her wheelchair around

How much assistance is an employer required to grant someone using a walker/wheelchair combination due to an injury for about a month? Our boss is expecting coworkers and people who she supervises to push her to meetings in other buildings. She stated she didn’t want to pay the additional funds for a motorized wheel chair. I’ve gotten out of it because I have back issues.

She has a habit of asking too much of the people who work for her when she suffers injuries. Some are afraid to say no because she gets quite ugly.

Especially since it’s temporary, I don’t think it’s particularly outrageous to ask people for that kind of help if they’re capable of doing it, as long as people are free to say no. The issue here seems to be that people are afraid to say no and she doesn’t realize that she’s inappropriately pressuring them — that’s more of the problem than that she’s asking for help in the first place. (And I imagine if people had good will toward her, they’d be more inclined to say yes. It sounds like she hasn’t treated people well, which is playing into this.)

Since it sounds like this has come as an issue with her before, one option would be for you and your coworkers to talk to HR and ask them to talk with her about what her options are for getting the help she needs without making people who report to her feel pressured.

4. I want to take medical leave for depression but I don’t trust HR

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for 10 years and am currently going through a particularly low period that started about a year ago. I’m diagnosed and medicated, but I still go through very long periods where my mental health has a severe impact on my daily life and productivity. My boss knows and is understanding, though obviously he’d prefer for me to be available in the office rather than taking a lot of sick days or working from home as often as I do.

I would really like to take some time off to restart various forms of therapy and get my life back together so that I can be happy coming to work. However, when I consider talking to my HR department about it, I’m not convinced that my medical situation will be kept confidential. I am not at ALL gossipy at work (my social anxiety doesn’t allow it), but I hear literally everyone’s personal issues through the grapevine. My sister (who also works here) has spoken to HR about two issues in the last year, and both have made their way to me through the gossip channels after a few days. I don’t want to talk to my coworkers about my mental health. Ever. Even if I were healthy.

Obviously, this is a company problem and I’m already trying to find a new job, but my issues kind of make that difficult as well. Do you think I should just bite the bullet and tell HR, even though I know I’ll hear about it from everyone as soon as I return? Is there a way to take leave without explaining anything more than “a medical issue”?

If you’re planning to take leave through FMLA, there’s a certification process where your doctor will need to fill out forms with pretty limited information — just enough to demonstrate that you do have a serious medical condition that requires the leave.

FMLA also prohibits sharing personal medical information about a person taking FMLA leave. That doesn’t mean your employer won’t do it anyway — they sound lovely — but you could try to head it off when you talk to HR by saying something like, “I know that FMLA requires the reasons for my leave to be kept confidential. In the past, though, I’ve heard rumors about other people’s medical situations. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen and that the law isn’t violated. Can you help me ensure this info isn’t shared?” In other words, preemptively remind/shame them.

5. What does it mean to be salaried non-exempt?

I work in a non-exempt, salaried position. Previously I worked at a different company as a non-exempt, hourly position. So in general, I’m a little confused because I only ever knew the difference between hourly and salary and didn’t realize you could be non-exempt AND salaried. Can you explain what a non-exempt, salaried employee can expect with regard to number of hours worked vs paid?

Non-exempt salaried means that you get the same salary from week to week, except that if you work more than 40 hours in a particular week, you get paid overtime for that. But if you have a week where you work, say, 35 hours, your pay doesn’t get docked (that’s the salaried part).

For people who are affected by the upcoming change to the overtime regulations (and who will be becoming non-exempt when they were previously exempt), this is likely to be the best option for many of them.

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike*

    Re #5: I am currently salaried non-exempt so here has been my experience (which doesn’t conflict with Allison’s response): Every month (we are paid monthly) I get the same base pay. So February was the same amount as July. I don’t have to clock in and out but I do have to keep track of any over time and submit timecards for those hours.

    I’ve also been salaried exempt for the same type of work and the only real difference has been watching for overtime. I still time shift as needed (though, because I’m in CA I do have to be aware of those restrictions) and handle emergency issues off hours.

    Salaried non-exempt can be pretty nice but I sometimes miss the flexibility of being exempt.

    1. Stephanie*

      Oh yeah, I forgot to add that I had to keep track of my time on a time sheet. I had to document meals and breaks as well (regardless of whether I took them).

  2. Stephanie*

    #5: I had this at OldJob. I was also making peanuts (didn’t meet the old exempt threshold). But yeah, my pay was guaranteed as long as I worked a minimum amount of hours and I received overtime during our busy season.

  3. Stephanie*

    #1: If you’re leaving on good terms and had a good working relationship, it’s probably genuine. LinkedIn is perfect for this (or maybe Facebook if you have more of a relaxed relationship). I would say it would only get weird if you stopped by the office all the time or tried to become best friends with coworkers you were just cordial with.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I do meet nearly monthly with some former coworkers, although the groups vary. I meet for lunch about once a month with co-workers at LastJob, and one retired person is a regular and others may or may not show up. I also meet for lunch about once a month with co-workers from JobBeforeLast, and there’s a core group of 4 or 5 of us that nearly always are there. Then I and my spouse meet about monthly with a co-worker and his wife from Job25YearsAgo. A few others are invited but rarely come. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was networking — I’d always just considered I was meeting with friends.

  4. NicoleK*

    #1. In my experience, many coworkers will say, “stay in touch” and “let’s do lunch sometimes” but few will actually take the step to extend an invitation. YMMV.

    #2. Inviting your boss to dinner isn’t a good idea. But a little kindness can go a long way. And there are many ways you can show kindness to your boss. If you’re grabbing lunch for yourself, you can always ask her if you can pick something up for her (depending on your comfort level). Engage in some small talk (i.e. ask about her weekend plans and etc).

    #3 I would not feel comfortable pushing my boss around in a wheelchair.

    1. Gaara*

      Or ask your boss to go it to lunch. Business lunches are a normal, professional thing, so it isn’t boundary-smudging, but she might view it as a kindness.

      1. OP#2*

        I’ll try to do that one of these days I think. I’m very much a “packed lunch” person, but I really don’t mind once in a while if it helps her feel a little better.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          You know, the fact that your a packed lunch person could work to your favor as a lead in. “Hey I normally pack lunch but didn’t have time this morning, do you have a suggestion of somewhere nearby and would you like to go?” or something similar.

          1. Jaydee*

            Or even an “Ugh, I’m kind of getting tired of eating my leftovers and turkey sandwiches down here in the basement. I was thinking about going out to lunch one day a week while the weather is still nice. Want to join me?” You two could set a weekly lunch date, and even if you end up not going *out* every time, even eating your turkey sandwich outside or going to a dining center on campus would be an opportunity to get out of the basement and be professionally social with your boss. It might also lead to more professional socialization with other colleagues – maybe you run into a couple of professors or other scientists and all start eating together once a week.

        2. 2 Cents*

          You could also ask if she’d like a coffee (or whatever) when you’re taking a break yourself, whether she comes with you or not.

          It could also be as simple as taking a detour to pop your head in her office to make some small talk a few times a week / daily. Also, it’s probably best to not be “sucked in” to her moods day to day (I’m saying this to protect you and her and your professional relationship), but just being a good worker, being friendly and mindful that she might not be feeling her best in her interactions with you can go a long way.

        3. Moonsaults*

          Do you two typically eat lunch alone at your desks? If that’s the norm, I think that breaking it a bit and saying “You know what, how about we go out to lunch today? Let’s get some sunshine!”

          That will also keep things light and friendly.

          Or is there anywhere you can go to eat lunch in terms of, if you both pack a lunch? “Hey, I’m going to go eat lunch in the courtyard today, it’s so beautiful out, care to join me?”

          That kind of thing can really brighten someone’s day when they’re struggling and she may not really think about it, since she’s so bogged down with the emotional drainage.

          1. OP#2*

            I almost always eat lunch at my desk. I think she goes out, if she gets anything at all. I don’t know where she is 80-90 % of the day. She’s always out and about fixing things.

            I’ll ask her though. It would fit well with her half-days to grab lunch when she leaves.

        4. Emily*

          I just wanted to say that, even though I agree that dinner at your home is a bit too much, your question really touched me. I’ve been through times when I’ve felt very isolated at work, lonely in my personal life, or both, and I know how painful it is to lose a pet. In tough times, I’m always grateful for kind and sympathetic words from friends, colleagues, acquaintances . . . even strangers! But reading your letter, I was struck by the realization that there are empathetic and compassionate people who really consider those who are struggling and endeavor to help, even going so far as to ask a columnist for advice on how to do it! We often say “I’ll be thinking of you” when someone is having a hard time, and it’s lovely to see someone truly doing that—a reminder that it’s not just a platitude.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      #1 I think people mean it at the time, and in my experience it generally happens once shortly after I’ve left that job. But after that, it seems everyone grows apart and gets busy with their respective lives.
      #3 wheelchair + stairs sounds like a ripe opportunity to rid yourself of a bad boss (jk)

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I have followed up with several former co-workers 3-6 months after leaving the job. We usually meet up for an hour or so, have a pleasant chat… and realize that we have very little in common anymore now that we don’t work together. It’s still a good idea to stay in touch for networking if you can, but you may never become real friends. Some relationships are situational, and that’s OK!

  5. Comms Person*

    #1 – I think this really depends on the relationship you had with your colleagues and the style of office you work in! I was very friendly with my manager and most of my colleagues, to the point that we used to go out for dinner together all the time with our respective partners. So when I left the role and moved to another city, it really was like leaving a group of friends.

    Since then, I’ll go back into the office and visit every time I’m back in that city – probably about once every four months or so. I’ll give them a few week’s notice of my being in town and will arrange to have a long lunch with all my closest ex-colleagues before going back to the office with them in the afternoon to say a more general hello to everyone.

    That was a very unique work environment though…thinking about the job I’m in now, I probably wouldn’t ever come back to catch up with people when I leave! (Good riddance…)

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Agree that it depends on the office culture. OldJob had a very social culture, and they often open their work social events to “office alumni,” so I’ll regularly meet up for a happy hour or trivia night or something similar with my ex-colleagues, and so will several others who have left the office. It’s great! We have people who left a decade ago who are still in touch with the office, and it’s a nice way to stay in touch (and network, too).

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        This is true. You just reminded me that my BF used to work for a huge multi national company that had a regular happy hour, and this happy hour existed of roughly half people currently working there and half alumni, as you put it. When he relocated to the west coast, they made that weeks happy hour a celebration/going away type thing for him and at that point he hadn’t worked at that company for over five years. I thought that was super nice and pretty unusual.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I agree that it depends on the work place and people. At ToxicJob I had some wonderful coworkers – we have all moved on from ToxicCompany since then, but we still get together for drinks or something a couple times a year.

      For me, a good indicator was the fact that we were already meeting up outside of work at ToxicJob, and sending each other social messages on FB (or the company Skype if it was appropriate!).

    3. mike 2*

      I still go and say hi to people at the job I worked at 5,6 years ago. My best friend still works there, my former boss is there and we are very close, so it is kind of expected of me now that I live in a different country and don’t see them as often to come and say Hi.
      My other job though I would not go and visit old coworkers. We are not as close and it is out of my way, so no.

    4. SL #2*

      I do that with my old job! Current job takes me back to that region every few months, so when I can, I try to arrange things so that I can stay for the weekend. If it’s a Friday, I’ll grab lunch with my former managers and then pop into the office to say hello. It might be rarer for me to do that now, though… most of my work friends have moved on to other companies and it’s harder to get everyone in the same place at the same time.

    5. SevenSixOne*

      I used to work as a server in a restaurant, and I came back as a customer a few months after I stopped working there. The change in the relationship dynamic was REALLY uncomfortable– we used to be peers, but now we were “guest” and “server”.

      I felt weird getting special treatment, and I could tell my former co-workers felt weird treating me just like anyone else. Very awkward all around.

    6. Jaydee*

      My workplace is pretty social, although that has ebbed and flowed depending on the exact composition of the office at any given time. There are a few former coworkers that I have barely interacted with since they left – maybe we are Facebook friends and occasionally comment on something the other has posted, or one of us has called the other with a relevant professional question. Other coworkers I was particularly close to when we worked together. We still talk to each other and get together for lunch or drinks or whatnot pretty regularly (maybe every 2-3 months).

  6. eplawyer*

    #3 when you said “injuries” it sounds like this is a regular thing with your boss. If it were a one time thing, sure help out. But if she is continually getting hurt and expecting the rest of you to get her around, then there is a bigger issue here. Boss needs a better plan than using her employees as chair bearers.

    As Alison said, you need to talk to HR. What if someone gets hurt at work pushing the boss around? What if they hurt the boss pushing her around?

    1. Jeanne*

      An interesting question about getting hurt. I also noted it said previous injuries. I’m imagining she plays roller derby on the weekends and has injuries. They need a different plan at work. Maybe meetings have to come to the conference room closest to the person with the broken leg.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        I also wonder how frequent those injuries are.

        Considering how the US insurance system works her premiums must be sky high.

        1. ShellBell*

          “Considering how the US insurance system works her premiums must be sky high”

          That’s not how insurance premiums work for most people in the U.S. who buy their insurance via employee sponsored plans.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            Well, if you have a lot of high-cost incidents through the year, insurance companies will often increase rates for the following plan year during renewal. We’re a relatively small company and had like 10 people max out their deductible one year, and that was enough for our then-insurer to want to increase our premiums almost 20%. So, it’s not impossible that she could be helping to drive up the cost for everyone in the company.

            1. Natalie*

              I think there is some kind of small business pooling system now, or maybe that’s just in some states? Our benefits administrator was explaining it to us recently – apparently our group health coverage is part of a pool of a number of small businesses, so our individual claims don’t have the same impact on our premiums.

        2. Moonsaults*

          If she pays for her own individual plan, they are not like car insurance, they don’t jack it up if you have high claims. It’s calculated on how old you are.

          I don’t know how they do it with employer paid plans but I’d be shocked if they could use that kind of scheme there either. The only thing that screwed us years ago was a guy who was turning 70, one 70 year old on the payroll meant that jumped us up sky-high. That was when the employer then canceled the plan all together, it was a junk plan anyways, argh.

      2. AMT*

        I was picturing a boss who was older or in poor health and who fell frequently or had joint issues. That would also explain why she’s not capable of pushing herself. I like your suggestion of requesting that meetings be held on her floor. That’s a pretty easy (and probably ADA-friendly) fix.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yes, for meetings that aren’t larger than their space allows, could OP suggest moving some of the meetings to their building?

        If the company is large enough to have multiple buildings, is there someone who’s primary responsibility is for safety, ergonomics, disability accommodations, etc (I’m thinking of college campuses that have an “Office of Disability Services” or similar)? Perhaps OP could put in a call there and explain the situation and ask what could be done?

        FWIW, if someone were to injure themselves pushing the boss in her wheelchair, or hit a pothole and cause the boss to take a spill, that would be considered an injury at work and would require the company to go through the workman’s comp process, which can be expensive and a hassle. So it is something the company should be concerned about, and work with the boss to find a way to accommodate her.

      4. EddieSherbert*

        It seems simple enough to see about having meetings closer to her office if she’s very mobile right now

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I had a coworker who would was always injuring herself. I honestly think she had a psychological need to be constantly injured. When she had knee surgery, she didn’t rest, she went to a spinning class so she would have to have the surgery again. When she felt pain in her hip, she would go to hard core boot camp classes until she needed surgery and tissue grafts.
      And just like the manager in the letter, this employee expected coworkers to push her wheelchair and carry her papers and sometimes lift her (!) into her office chair. I think she single-handedly increased our insurance premiums.

    3. MV*

      I once had a really thoughtless boss who used her employees like this. Once, she had shoulder surgery and told me I was driving her home from work one day. Up until then, other employees had been “told” they were doing it. Like LW #2, our boss could be really nasty if she didn’t get her way. I took her home that day and said “goodnight, have a good evening”. She said she needed me to come in. So, I followed her in and she directed me to her bedroom and instructed me to help her take off her top and undo her bra and help her get into her nightgown. Until I realized I was simply helping her with something she couldn’t do on her own, I was trying to figure out how to get out of whatever she had in mind. Had she asked me for help beforehand, I probably would have been okay with it, but this left me really creeped out. Some people have a hard time asking for help in a normal way, I guess. Luckily, I never had to give her a ride again.

  7. Dankar*

    #2 – I would shy away from suggesting another animal. For those who live with just their pets at home, the suggestion that they could essentially just get a replacement can come across as callous. I think bringing in coffee or stopping by her office a couple times a day could go a long way toward making her feel less isolated. And if the opportunity arises to have lunch together, it may not be a bad idea to spend some time chatting.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      This. For some people, it’s a kind gesture, but for others it sounds heartless even if not meant that way.

      I guarantee you she has considered another pet, it is an obvious thing to consider, but she may not want to discuss the details of that choice with others.

      While dinner is probably inappropriate , why not invite her to lunch or coffee at work? Or offer to grab something? Those are appropriate ways to socialize and would likely be welcome.

    2. OP#2*

      Yeah, that is why I didn’t suggest it initially. When my grandmother lost her dog, I made the mistake of asking. I mean, the woman had owned dogs for as long as I can remember, of course she was getting another, right? But it was too soon, and she was offended. She got a new one only a few months after, but my question still offended her at the time.

      I’ll try to take more time to chat with her. I know I appreciate it when others come to chat with me, but somehow I still feel like I am imposing if I do it to others. Plus I feel bad for spending time on other things when I should be working (yup, recent grad and still not quite used to navigating a professional work environment).

      1. Dangitmegan*

        We just lost our dog of 16 years and everyone asks that. I know their intentions are kind, but it makes me feel queasy every time. It irrationally feels like they are saying its just a dog and I should get over it and get a new one. So I think your intentions to stay away from that question are right.

        1. OP#2*

          I am so sorry for your loss.

          I am aware that’s how it often comes across, which is why I didn’t mention it. I wish there was a better way of expressing that I just think taking care of someone else works for me when I am down, and rescuing a pet or volunteering at a shelter (animal or people), or other kinds of volunteering can do wonders.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I’ve been getting the same thing after losing Psycho Kitty. My answer (and it’s the truth) is that I’ve been thinking of moving and I don’t want to deal with a pet until I get that settled. I joke about her putting me in the hospital, but then I always say I miss the little jerk.

          I do miss the little jerk. :(

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OP, there is a technique I have used and found worked well. I call it “random little helps”. This is where nothing I do is that big a deal, but I keep doing it at random intervals. For example, if I am going to get a coffee, I’d ask her if she wanted a coffee, too. Or if I had to go mail some letters, I’d check to see if she had any letters to mail also. Notice how I am not going out of my way, I am just going about my own day. I also keep it random so that nothing becomes “expected behavior”. For example, I would not get a coffee for her EVERY Friday. Mix it up, do different things and do it randomly. And there is nothing there that is a strain for me, but it is a gesture of thoughtfulness. Over time this works into powerful stuff.

        Here’s a key point. She is a grieving person. One thing grieving people need to do is help others. They need that, it gives them a sense of having purpose. So if she offers you a coffee/tea, say YES. Understand that it is more than a cuppa coffee, it is something she CAN do in spite of having all these “life things” that she cannot do anything about. So say yes to the coffee.

        Remember that sometimes the best people can do is just keep showing up and keep on top of what needs to be done. Let’s face it, all the good-hearted intentions in the world are not going to bring that pet back to life and fix the other stuff here. (I wish we had magic wands but we don’t.) If you are a rock solid employee, she will be able to say to her friends and family, “At least work is going well. I have a super employee.” Do your best at work so that area of her life is stabilized.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          This is very good perspective; particularly in paragraph #2…sometimes not what we do, but what we let others do for us as well. Good thought to have tucked in the back of my brain.

        2. OP#2*

          This is a really good suggestion, thank you.

          Not just for things like coffee or tea, but work as well. I know some of the admin as well have been taking on some of her tasks (she did have far too many, so that is only fair). Initially, I wanted to take on more to lighten her load, but after reading this, I’ll work harder to look for activities and tasks where I can ask for her help and expertise, but hopefully without letting her get overwhelmed.

          1. CM*

            Rather than guessing about whether she would rather have you take on more tasks or ask for her help more, my suggestion would be to have a conversation with her — not focused on her grief, but on her workload. Like, “I see you have tasks X, Y, and Z, and I have the capacity to do those. Would it be helpful if I took these on? Is there anything else you’d suggest I work on for the next few weeks?” Maybe I’m reading too much into your comment, but it still sounds like you’re sort of trying to manage her feelings. Just being kind is enough.

            1. OP#2*

              Me taking on more of her work is because they are in my job description, and I feel responsible for handling them.

              Last term, I got dropped in just a few weeks before the students were coming in. There was no way I would have time to go through inventory, order everything we needed and get it all sorted for all three groups in that time. Our educational backgrounds are such that we compliment each other, and she could go “You prepare labs X and Y, I’ll deal with Z.”

              Now, however, we have more time to prepare, and I am more familiar with my job. I would like to take one, say maybe half of lab Z (lab Z being at least as big as labs X and Y combined). I still need to depend on her for technical expertise, but I just feel that since I am the lab tech, and she is the technical manager, this should mostly fall to me. She has a ton of other tasks after all.

              I will make sure we have a good, long talk about it though, to make sure we are on the same page. Thank you for pointing that out.

      3. Moonsaults*

        It drastically depends on the person.

        I would mention “Do you think you’ll ever get another dog/cat?” and go from there, then suggest a rescue if the conversation goes that way.

        A few weeks after we lost our beloved Siamese of 14 years, the vet called to say she had found the sweetest kitten stranded outside of her house and would my mom possibly want to adopt him? That rascal never would take the place of Pacey but absolutely was welcomed into the home.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      #2 – I would shy away from suggesting another animal. For those who live with just their pets at home, the suggestion that they could essentially just get a replacement can come across as callous.

      Also, there’s absolutely no way it hasn’t already occurred to her that she could get another pet. There’s really no reason at all to suggest it to her.

  8. Snowflake*

    RE #2: I agree that dinner at your place is crossing professional boundaries with your boss, but there might be some other ways to inject some social/collaboration time into your workplace that could benefit both you and your boss (I used to be a grad student in a really small research group). If there is another research group working on even a peripherally related topic, you could suggest joint lab meetings or journal clubs. Be on the lookout for on-campus seminars that are related to your work, and ask your boss to come with you to those. You could also suggest looking for a summer student or term project student, if you genuinely wouldn’t mind training and working with one (they can also be kind of like pets, don’t involve a long term commitment and are usually easy to find funding for). In the absence of an actual grad student, you can also start interacting more with your boss about your work (ask questions, suggest further experiments, and discuss related papers with her). Good luck! I hope things get better for your boss soon.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I’d wouldn’t recommend getting a student unless the OP is willing and able to take full responsibility for them, without any support from their boss (which kind of defeats the purpose). A summer student requires a lot of intense supervision, and someone who has been on extended medical leave, and is now on half-time for reasons of psychological illness, is probably not going to be a particularly good supervisor.

      We’ve got summer students at the moment, and while they do occasionally remind me of ducklings, they also require about an hour a day of direct interaction/discussion/instruction, plus time spent planning their project and checking their results.

      1. OP#2*

        Thank you for chiming in on this. I couldn’t imagine adding supervising a student to this whole kettle of fish! I’m barely more than a student myself. It keeps my day full just researching online about how to do my job well (and then doing it), just so that I don’t add additional pressure to my boss by being a bad or demanding employee.

        Our previous technician got fired (hence the sudden need for a temp rather than a full-time hire). When I hear her and the teachers gush about my stumbling, fumbling-in-the-dark work, it makes me wonder just how bad the previous tech was!

        1. LabTech*

          When I hear her and the teachers gush about my stumbling, fumbling-in-the-dark work […]

          This is tangential, but that fumbling-in-the-dark is some of the hardest lab work one can do. Following a canned technique can take time to master, but has roughly established what goes where, and what good results and bad results look like. Needing to learn how to do something you’ve never done before, you have to figure out what bad results even are, along with all the minutiae of which tools and glassware to use and how to physically set up the procedure in a way that doesn’t have you awkwardly juggling three things at once or having to stop between each step, and resolving unforeseen obstacles in the process (e.g. “Woops! Turns out these two reagents mixed together make lots and lots of bromine gas!”).

          1. OP#2*

            Following the tangent, sorry. I’m starved for other lab techs to talk to!

            To get to that point though, you have to first find the equipment in a mess of 30-40 years of “just put it where it fits”. My predecessor didn’t believe in organising, or cleaning. As I came to notice quite quickly. There is stuff in here that went off date back in the 80’s and 90’s. I thought they were joking at first but my colleagues were actually concerned he would blow up the building eventually.

            I put a bottle of aqua regis in the window once, sans dark bottle. I can “proudly” say I made nitrous gases during undergrad.

            1. LabTech*

              Oh gosh, digging through a mess of old, highly disorganized equipment is high up there on the Do-Not-Want list. My previous job had me organize a lab before I could work in it, and that was a pain but wasn’t several decades worth of lab detritus.

              I didn’t know aqua regia + UV/light -> nitrous gas, but will keep that in mind next time I’m handling it! Surprise poisonous gasses are never an easy day in the lab. I’d say my second “proudest” moment would be when I accidentally set our lab’s water purifier on fire (though in my defense, ours is surprisingly flammable).

              1. OP#2*

                I’m glad I am not alone! I am still trying to organise our labs, in between preparing for and teaching in them.

                The nitrous gas might also have been in part because of the grime that was on the magnets we were cleaning. We were hanging out of the office windows the rest of the day, utterly useless.

                One thing I need to learn is to plan my work though. Our fire alarm is tested every Wednesday at 12. I know this, but I keep forgetting to look at the clock while I work. One day I was getting rid of some old potassium (caked in oxides and other explosive wonders). Don’t you know that just as I was picking it out of the vial with my tweezers to drop it in the sand, the bloody thing went off? I very nearly had a heart attack!

                1. Mephyle*

                  How about putting a once-a-week gentle alarm on your cell phone for a few minutes before 12 on Wednesdays (if you have your phone with you when you work)?

                2. LabTech*

                  Haha, that sounds terrifying! I’m no stranger to some of the nastier compounds, but anything that can spontaneously detonate are also on my DO-NOT-WANT list. I’m too easily startled – that potassium would have ended up across the room if I were handling it.

    2. OP#2*

      If this was anything like the lab technician positions I was used to in university, that might work. However, we are teaching teachers how to teach science. There is no research except what is done in the “how to teach better” fields. I think this contributes to her isolation as she used to manage a large group (50+) in the medical field, but opted for a lower-key job in her senior years. Now it’s just me.
      I’m no more than a recent grad myself, and to be honest I am struggling quite a bit just trying to find resources and getting to grips with all the responsibilities that suddenly landed in my lap with this job. Having someone else shadow me and ask questions about my decisions would be enough to cause me quite a bit of anxiety.
      I’ll try to chat more with her though. That is a good suggestion. I have been offered a second desk up in the admin office as well, as my boss is concerned for my sake as well. I’m high-functioning autistic, and am more inclined to forget breaks and just plod along with my various tasks. Chit-chat and socialising are real challenges! I also feel bad for going up to admin just to socialise, even though they encourage us to. Surely they don’t appreciate being randomly distracted in their own busy work day when I don’t even have work-related inquiries?

      1. InfoGeek*

        If you’re teaching teachers how to teach science, then maybe she needs to schedule time to sit in on classes at the university and at local schools. She could sit in on classes of all types, not just science, to see how good teaching in one area might be reflected in science.

        What about lunch focus groups with students on what they think makes a good teacher? Or the best teacher they had in university?

        Is there a Math Teachers Circle in your area? The focus may be slightly different (math not science), but she may enjoy interacting with the people.

        Do you think she needs in-person interaction? I know there’s a large group of math teachers on Twitter who are posting about teaching and how to teach better. Maybe there’s activity like that for science, too?

        Maybe a weekly round table with science graduate students who want to discuss teaching?

        1. sleepwakehopeandthen*

          Oh my goodness, scientists love Twitter. So much. Like why bother with LinkedIn when there is Twitter. It’s a little odd to me, but now I have my official scientist twitter since it was recommended to me and people actually did come up and talk to me at my poster at the last meeting I was at because of it, which is so weird. Twitter is definitely a science thing.

            1. Jaydee*

              Teachers also love Twitter. There are tons of professional organizations for science teachers, curriculum and instruction folks, educational technology folks, etc. Conferences and Twitter chats and Google hangouts and whatnot.

        2. ECHM*

          Maybe check out the American Chemical Society or American Association of Chemistry Teachers? The ACS at least probably has a chapter in your area.

          Slight tangent, but my dad was the Director of Laboratories (stockroom manager) for a local private college for a number of years. He was a stickler for organization. He retired in 2003 (at the age of 84) so I don’t know how the lab is coming along now. I do remember going to his office and him making hot chocolate for us using deionized water. (Pro hot chocolate making tip: put in a little water into the mix, stir it until smooth – “make a paste” – and then put in the rest of the water and stir until smooth.)

      2. LQ*

        I recommend a professional association of some kind, even if it is adjacent. It might be helpful for you and her. Socializing for her and finding resources for you. I find that professional association meetings that are more like lectures or scheduled things are a lot better for me because there is structure, you don’t have to just randomly talk to people, you can learn and then if you feel compelled sit quietly going over your notes and sometimes ask someone else what they came up with or if they understood a point. Less chit-chat more structure helps a lot and a lot of times you can find that at the professional association meetings. (not the ones that are just “networking events” but others)

    3. ginger ale for all*

      I work at a university and our HR has lot of trainings for staff and faculty during the slower summer semesters. Perhaps you can suggest she take more of those trainings while you are gone. There are some you will have to take anyways every so often like the active shooter training, the sexual harassment training, and the retirement plans and benefits class so it might be better to get them then. Also, perhaps she could be a mentor? And then away from the university, there is the old stand by of a book club.

  9. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. As I work somewhere where the business community is very close-knit and it is commom to meet former colleagues out and about (the local hypermarket is brilliant for catching up. My record is 3 from 3 different companies in 1 trip!) the “Let’s have lunch/coffee/drinks sometime” invitation often gets used but is not necessarily followed through. I don’t think it’s specifically avoiding people, but rather that socialising with somebody you used to work with is not so important after a while.

    1. MK*

      I agree. I think most people are perfectly sincere when they ask you to keep in touch, but when the time comes to actually extend effort and time to see you, they won’t hugely inconvenience themselves . I would recommend a similar attitude from your side: if you want to keep in touch, do so, but don’t twist yourself into knots trying (e.g., if you know you will happen to be in the area of your old office and have 20 minutes free, call and, if it’s a good time for them, go to see them). But, I think staying in touch via e-mail or social media would be fine too.

    2. CM*

      I have a lot of former colleagues who I meet once or twice a year for lunch, and we’ll email each other on occasion if there’s a reason (ask a favor, make an announcement, etc.) My personal rule is that if I would actually enjoy spending the time with them, I’ll ask them one time to get together, and won’t follow up if they don’t respond. People who genuinely do want to keep in touch will respond and try to set something up.

  10. Mica*

    I’m really interested in seeing the answers for OP1. I want to get better at “staying in touch” with colleagues, but I am sooo bad at it that I tend not to!

    1. Joseph*

      The biggest thing about “staying in touch” with old colleagues is realizing that it’s now a totally different dynamic and level of effort required to set up plans. You’re used to being able to make plans by just shooting off a quick “drinks after work?” IM/email or stopping by their office on the way back from the copy room or whatever. Once you no longer work together, it takes real, focused effort if you want to keep those friendships.
      It also usually takes more planning, since there’s now a lot more effort required to find a place that’s convenient for both of you. Unless your new office is right near the old one, it’s actually out of your way (or out of their way) to find a place that works for both of you. Ironically, I’ve found the best way to combat this is to not try to do the simple “let’s just grab a burger at the local pub” like we used to, but instead make it more of an event – a ballgame, trivia, party on the weekend, going to see a local band,or the like.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Brain wave! I never thought of this before. This is also true for non-work friendships if whatever brought you together in the first place stops. But for work friendships the times spent being friendly are carved out of work and are a nice break from work and don’t each into the personal time. So there is a change in the dynamic if you get together outside of work. Still if you keep it low key and not massively time consuming I think many people myself included would be happy to catch up.

    2. NicoleK*

      Staying in touch with people had been one of my self improvement goals too. So here’s what I do:
      1. Connect with people through Facebook
      2. Connect with people through LinkedIn
      3. Stop by the old company to see people 1-2 a year
      4. Arrange lunch or coffee dates
      5. Try to meet up individually with former coworker 1-2 times a year
      6. Arrange group lunch dates (3-4 former coworkers)

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I have a co-worker that I worked with 15 years ago, and we still get together once or twice a year for drinks. We always get together the week of her birthday, so we may not have a set date, but we know to keep a day open for drinks that week.
      I think the key thing is to just be proactive and send the invitation. Once you throw out a date, then everyone can put it on their calendars. Some people won’t be interested after a while, but others will always want to hang out and catch up.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, that’s what I do. Near the beginning of a week I send an email to the group of former co-workers: want to meet for lunch this Thursday or Friday? If I get any interest we decide on a place and time to meet. (I almost always get some interest.) Periodically I remind them if they don’t want the emails, to let me know and I’ll take them off the list. There are a few who never come to lunch, but then reply that they want to stay on the list.

  11. Jeanne*

    #4, I am sorry you are having severe problems with mental health. I’m sure it is a nightmare to think of discussing these issues at work. Talk to your doctor(s) and determine if they believe time off could help you. If they do, please go through with it. You’ll need to talk to HR and do paperwork to take FMLA leave. You’ll also have to speak to your boss. Stress that you are asking for confidentiality. But you and your boss should agree on a phrase since of course people will ask where you are. “She is taking a few weeks of leave.” followed by “That’s all I can say.” Same for your sister since they will ask her too. Your sister could say “You should ask [sister].” When you get back, you will be stronger and be able to handle inquiries with “I had a little medical thing.” and change the subject.

    If people do find out, read the letter about the lonely professor again. In the end, most people will feel compassion. A few won’t. And you’ll be ready to look for a new job.

  12. Reb*

    OP#4, if I were you I’d consider pre-empting the grapevine. I’d be off to Tanzania to help rehabilitate a gold mine. During the rainy season! With bats!!

  13. Jen RO*

    #1 – I keep in touch with most of my former coworkers via Facebook, and I chat regularly with some of them on Hangouts. (Based on the AAM comments, FB doesn’t seem to be used so much with coworkers in the US, so YMMV.) Some former coworkers have become friends, so I see them more often, but the others tend to drop by when they have errands to run in the area. For example, one of them had a morning dentist’s appointment and she would have gotten in to her work too early, so she got off the subway 2 stops early and spent 30 minutes having coffee and a smoke with us. I don’t know if this would work for you, but I think it’s a good middle ground, in that you could just say you will be in the area at X date Y time and you would like to have lunch/coffee/etc with your ex-coworkers, without seeming too pushy.

  14. Loose Seal*

    When reading #3, did anyone else think of Laura Ingalls pushing Nellie’s wheelchair down the hill?

    Seriously, though, it can be hard to learn to function in a wheelchair. And if she’s dealing with a new injury, it might be painful for her to try to push herself. (I know you don’t say what kind of injury but if it was from a fall, for instance, her upper body may be sore as well.) And don’t look down on her for not getting a motorized chair. They are incredibly expensive and usually insurance won’t cover them because there is the obvious cheaper solution.

    I think that you might be in the bitch eating crackers mode with your boss, though. I’m guessing that you might be subconsciously angry at her for getting loads of help for multiple injuries while you don’t get help with functioning at work with your back issues. I say this as someone who has extensive back, pelvis, and hip pain. I used to be incensed that I could drag my pain-wracked body to work and never complain while others would ask me to go pick up something on the copier for them; they had a blister from new shoes and didn’t want to walk on it. So I would shuffle my poor body over to get it, grinding my teeth the whole time. Eventually, I got over that anger but it simmered just under the surface for months. (Yes, I’m projecting here. This may not be what OP is going through at all but I still think it would be worth it to figure out why this irritates you so much.)

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      I’m thinking of an unpleasant clingy “friend” I was constantly saddled with in high school. He had knee surgery and expected me to carry his extremely heavy bag everywhere for him, resulting in my being 5-10 minutes for most classes for weeks and in the whole school thinking I was his girlfriend, an idea that disgusted me. And even after recovering he continued to follow me everywhere until I finally lost it and ranted at him about his inappropriate behavior and constant clinging. It was unkind of me; I should have been able to say no and back off earlier, but no one else would be his pack mule.

      1. Temperance*

        It wasn’t unkind of *you*. It was creepy and manipulative of him to make those demands of you, because he knew you would feel guilty about saying no.

    2. CM*

      I’m guessing that context is everything here — what I got from the letter was that the issue isn’t that coworkers have to push someone in a wheelchair, but that this particular person tends to be demanding and unreasonable and the wheelchair gives them a valid reason to order people around. I can imagine a situation where people feel like they’re being forced to abandon their work or do things that are personally or professionally very inconvenient, when there could have been a much easier way to help the wheelchair-bound person (have them wait a minute, have someone else help, etc.)

    3. LQ*

      I was guessing the problem was that when someone says no “she gets quite ugly”. That to me sounds a bit like more than someone who is just BEC mode, but who has an unreasonable boss and this is one outlet of their unreasonableness that they think there might be a way around. If it sounded like the boss was complaining I’d be more likely to agree with you, but “gets quite ugly” to me sounds like someone who shouts and threatens. Which is not ok at work anyway.

      1. OP # 3 Wheelchair*

        I agree that part of my frustration is that I was stuck in a wheel chair & walker for 5 months a few years back. I had a good relationship with my co-workers and some excellent friends that helped me. I split the cost of gas with a friend that I worked with when I returned to the office & had coffee waiting for her when she picked me up. When I had physical therapy workman’s comp supplied transportation to physical therapy at the end of the day & home. A few times I paid a service to run me around. I had just moved into a new places & hadn’t finished unpacking. I paid some friends that had been recently laid off to unpack & set up the remaining boxes, they also got a gift of wine & tequila (their preferences). Once I was able to use a walker I had friends that I rode with to grocery store, etc. My neighbors took my trash to the dumpster, I gave them a thank you note & baked some goodies for them. I would ask, say thank you, and do something else for them so that I am not perceived as a burden, or that I am taking advantage of. I believe that there is a give and take in all relationships, that you find a balance that is healthy for both parties be it a personal relationship or work. She expects everyone to do for her without any kindness shown in return. It’s gotten to the point that everyone is hiding in their offices and not going towards our end of the building to avoid her putting them on the spot.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It is waaaaay hard to learn to function in a wheelchair, and it’s exhausting and can be pretty embarrassing to boot! (BTDT; it was such a hassle.) You’re very slow at first, keeping all the things you need steady is difficult, and pushing yourself around is quite tiring. Trying to get from one building to another in any reasonable time for a meeting would be extremely difficult!

      I don’t blame the boss for asking for help, because that can really be the only reasonable way to operate. Having her pressure her reports into it is not terribly appropriate, though; this sounds like something HR should get involved in to create a better accommodation. Pushing someone in a wheelchair, especially someone with an injury (elevated leg, anyone?) is a bit of an art, and I’d be pretty concerned about trying to do a good job wheeling my boss around, even if I felt fine about offering her the help. Honestly, I think expecting her to go to meetings in other buildings without making any kind of arrangements is rather thoughtless on their part! Surely they’re aware that she’s suffering a major injury.

    5. Lauren*

      It immediately reminded me of one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. *shudders* I only saw it once but once was more than enough. And if someone saying “no” to this boss brings on ugliness, it seems unfortunately appropriate.

    6. Mimmy*

      LOL thank you for the Little House reference…I was obsessed with that show when I was younger!

    1. WhichSister*

      That is exactly what came to mind when I read it. Does she like waking up to the smell of bacon cooking?

  15. K.*

    #3 made me sad. I would push my boss or colleague in a wheelchair. Motorized wheelchairs are REALLY expensive – we’re not talking about an extra hundred bucks.

    Admittedly, I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone whose mother has mobility issues (she has MS), so I’m accustomed to helping people get around. My mother uses a cane, not a wheelchair, but she still needs help with things. She’s also a boss and I know she asks people around her, most of whom are her subordinates (because most people where she works are her subordinates, she’s the #2 person), to help her with this or that and they always oblige. I think Alison is right that this boss doesn’t have a baseline of goodwill – my mother definitely does. People offer to help her unprompted and she’s always grateful. I can’t imagine balking at helping someone with mobility issues unless I already didn’t like them – and even then, honestly, I’d still do it.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I think what you and Loose Seal offer are valid points – however, it sound like OPs boss is basically saying “push me or else” as opposed to “I am going to need your help, would you mind?”…essentially same requests in very different ways.

      The point about electronic wheelchairs is a good one – they can be expensive and shouldn’t be the cause of such malice. In the above letter I think it’s a side note, though, not the reasoning. In general, I think most of us are nicer than we come across in print.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        They’re horribly expensive, and if you don’t want to get one that you need a whole separate addition to a car to transport, they’re even worse. I was looking into getting a folding one during a time when my mobility was severely limited, and the best I could find was $2,600 and most were over $3,000.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      +1. I’ve pushed people in a wheelchair. I’m not a particularly strong person. It takes a little umph to get it going but once it’s moving, it is really easy. I feel bad that she even has to ask people to help her. Her coworkers should be offering to help her, not looking for excuses to get out of it. (OP, I understand that you might not be physically able to do it but I got the vibe from you that you felt like phew, I have an excuse.) I think we all need more decent human courtesy.

      There is an opposing attorney that I very much dislike working with. As we were leaving court after one more brutal than normal session, he was ahead of me with his arms totally full and wouldn’t be able to pull open the door for us to leave. I ran ahead and said “let me get that for you.” My client seemed surprised after that I was “nice to that jerk.” I can’t imagine a world where I would ever enjoy seeing someone struggle, no matter how much I disliked them.

      If I had to ask someone to help me and that person said no, I’d be really mad too!

    3. Murphy*

      I’m coming from this with the same perspective as you (mother with MS who does use a wheelchair when we go anywhere she’ll be walking for more than a few minutes – say… IKEA or for a walk to the park with my kid) as well as having experience with mobility issues (car accident that kept me in a wheel chair for a few months when out of my apartment, then months of using a cane – still use it occasionally.).

      I can’t imagine not jumping into help someone with a mobility issue so this made me sad too. I’m trying to remember that we don’t know the whole story and that this may be a piece in a long string of mean-spirited demands, but yeah, I’m having a hard time finding a situation where “push the person in the wheelchair” isn’t the default.

      1. LQ*

        I think it could be any range of things but it could be that the person who says no has a meeting in a building on the other side of the campus of buildings at the same time and can’t be in two places at once, and for someone who “gets ugly” when you say no it might be a meeting you were told you HAD to be at or else. So suddenly you’re in a situation where your boss is going to be upset with you either way. Or where the boss is really upset with the way you push the wheelchair (it is absolutely a skill! and can hurt like all the things when done wrong) and if they are someone who is prone to being upset at things and are in pain? I’m not going to volunteer to be that person who gets chewed out.

        (I do think the biggest thing of this is why aren’t the meetings being held in the building the injured person is in when at all possible?)

    4. Temperance*

      I have the opposite take here, FWIW.

      I don’t like pushing people in wheelchairs, and avoid doing so at all costs. I often work with elderly, mobility-impaired people through my job, and it comes up often.

      The reason I avoid it is because I’m terrified of liability. I had one client whose wife made me push his wheelchair (instead of her doing it), and then, when he bumped his foot against the table, started moaning and screaming in (fake) pain. They then both started screaming at me, and then yelling for my boss. I mean, he wasn’t injured, but they made me look like an asshole for the rest of that day. Since then, I make them do it themselves. From the way they were carrying on, you would think I stabbed him or punched him in the face. His toe tapped the table. That was it.

      I also am recovering from a serious illness, and pushing a wheelchair is exhausting for me. I look fine, but I was in the ICU for a week earlier this year, and am still dealing with weakness and exhaustion.

  16. Minion*

    To #4, I am right there with you. I’ve been dealing with depression most of my adult life and I have my highs and lows, but over the past 6mos to a year, I’ve been really low. It’s affecting every aspect of my life, including my work: I’m missing deadlines, forgetting important things, falling behind and it’s impossible to focus and concentrate on what I’m doing. Tuesday of this week everything just came to a head when I got an email from my manager asking where I was on some specific reports and I started crying and couldn’t stop. I had to actually go and lock my office door because I was terrified someone would walk in while I was sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t pull myself together, so I went to see my doctor and he said we’re going to work on this together, so I’m feeling a little better, but I’m also wondering about how to handle it with my boss and with HR. I don’t want my boss to know I’m dealing with mental health issues, but I know that I have to have a conversation with her about the issues I mentioned above – it’s not like she hasn’t noticed, so it has to be addressed, but I’m not sure how to go about talking to her about it.
    Our HR person is very new in the job and she’s a little scattered, so while I trust her to keep my issues confidential, I’m not sure I trust her to really get things right if I need FMLA. I asked her some questions about it the other day and came away thinking that I know more about it than she does.
    I’m very interested in seeing the responses here because I need all the insight I can get into a situation like this.
    Regardless, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in dealing with issues like these and I really hope you get the rest and the help that you need. AAM is right – use the shame tactic preemptively and hopefully that will work. If not, I don’t know what recourse you may have, but since FMLA requires confidentiality, maybe there’s something you could do about it – maybe a lawsuit? Conversation with the DOL? I don’t know. But please don’t let anything stop you from getting the help you need.
    Sorry for the rambling.

    1. Anon for this*

      I had a case once that involved a client whose employer disclosed his private medical info to colleagues. After much research, we decided he didn’t have a case. Unless the law has changed, I don’t think there was any private right of action of the law wasn’t followed. That might have been under HIPPA (which may not have even applied since they weren’t a health care org) rather than FMLA though. I know we researched every possible angle. The only one we came up with was workers comp for negligent infliction of emotional distress and our client didn’t want to go that route.

  17. Alton*

    The non-exempt thing can get complicated depending on the field. I have basically the same understanding as Alison, but I work for a state university and here, you do get docked pay if you’re non-exempt and don’t work 40 hours. We used to get paid our base pay even if we didn’t turn in timesheets (we just had to turn in sheets to verify that we hadn’t worked overtime and to make sure any leave usage was accounted for), but now we actually have to clock in and out like hourly employees. The only difference is that we get leave that we can use, and if we work less than 40 hours, we’re expected to make up the difference with our leave balance instead of just getting paid less.

    So it’s probably best to consider what sector you work in and check if there’s any uncertainty about the rules. In my field, there are a lot of different employee types that have different rules.

  18. Karo*

    Re: #3 – Am I the only one wondering why the injured woman can’t roll herself? It’s an injury, not a debilitating illness, and she’s occasionally able to use a walker so I’d assume she can use both her arms.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      Have you tried a manual? I have tried a workout wheelchair without illness or injury before and it’s very difficult without significant upper body strength.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Wheeling yourself when you’re not well practiced at it is slow, exhausting, and difficult. For a boss who needs to get between buildings, a trip that might be only a few minutes’ walk could be 15 or 20 wheeling.

    3. Murphy*

      Depends why she’s injured/unable to walk. After my car accident I couldn’t push my wheelchair because I (a strong, healthy 30 years old at the time) simply didn’t have the strength because of a combination of multiple surgeries sapping my energy and massive soft tissue damage that made it difficult to move my arms that way. For someone like my mum, her issue presents most noticeably in her legs, but years of limited mobility has resulted in muscle atrophy in other areas as well.

      Plus, using a wheelchair is just freaking hard! It takes practice and strength that most people don’t have.

    4. LQ*

      This part seems extremely reasonable to me. They are hard to push, they are exhausting, and if they are expected to go to other buildings frequently that can add up to a lot of work, especially if there is any sloping or up and downs or worse construction. And we don’t know if this person is normally someone who is strong and goes to the gym or not. It’s not a muscle set that’s built over night.

    5. James Buchanan Burn*

      I know someone who can pound out fifty push-ups without stopping, and who needed help navigating and propelling when they were using a wheelchair. It’s HARD.

  19. Come On Eileen*

    #4 — I took a month off work last year to get treatment for my anxiety and depression. It was the best decision I could have made for myself and I’m so glad I had the time to focus on my mental health. I didn’t discose ANY of the specifics to my boss or to HR – I told my boss that I was dealing with a chronic medical condition and my doctor had recommended that I step up treatment (all true, but also conveniently vague). She didn’t ask for more details and I didn’t offer, other than to let her know that it wasn’t life-threatening and I was confident that treatment would be helpful. The FMLA forms did not ask for specific diagnosis, they were main,y centered around my doctor confirming that I had a serious medical condition and was receiving treatment. Good luck to you – it’s a brave decision to make and I wish you the best with it.

    1. Judy*

      I have a question about this. When I look at the FMLA form that I googled (WH-380-E), there are several things that seem to imply that they need to put the diagnosis or at least some information about which treatments. I’m guessing doctors know how to fill it out to make it more generic. It does ask the doctor’s specialty, along with:

      Was the patient referred to other health care provider(s) for evaluation or treatment (e.g., physical therapist)?
      ____No ____Yes. If so, state the nature of such treatments and expected duration of treatment:

      Describe other relevant medical facts, if any, related to the condition for which the employee seeks leave
      (such medical facts may include symptoms, diagnosis, or any regimen of continuing treatment such as the use
      of specialized equipment):

      1. Come On Eileen*

        My memory is a little fuzzy since this happened in February of last year. I pulled up my FMLA forms to jog my memory, and there’s a statement which reads: “NOTE: In California and Connecticut, do not disclose the underlying diagnosis unless you have received consent from the patient.” (I live in California)

        I honestly don’t remember if I saw the completed form that my doctor provided to my employer or not. I know that I quizzed my therapist several times to make sure that no diagnosis information would be transmitted back to my company, and she assured me as much.

        Also, my company is quite large and uses a third-party administrator to oversee FMLA claims, so I think (but am not 100% positive) that all forms and such went through them. If memory serves, they might have seen my diagnosis, but all they transmit back to my company/HR department was “yes, Come On Eileen is eligible for FMLA based on her documentation” or “no, Come On Eileen is not eligible based on her documentation.”

        Hope that helps.

  20. Sunshine Brite*

    I understand how much motorized wheelchairs can be and how difficult it is to move a manual one if you’re not used to it or haven’t built up significant upper body strength. But they can’t have reports pushing them around all day. They need to talk to HR/management about what temporary allowances they can come up with. Might even be a temp allowance for PCA to push the person around and assist as needed or the company assisting with getting the motorized chair for work hours or something else more reasonable than the costs occurred if something goes wrong with the current plan… or lack thereof.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      If they are all walking to the same meeting, I see nothing wrong with expecting another attendee to do the pushing if physically capable. It isn’t taking that other employee away from their job duties since they are walking there anyway.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, it sounded like it was just for distances, and that she can use the walker or chair to get around on her own in the office.

      2. EmmaLou*

        It still feels amazingly inappropriate. “Here, you there, be my personal attendant!” It’s very different than asking a stranger in the grocery store to hand you something you cannot reach.

        I say this as someone who needs a wheelchair to get around out in public. (My mother did the last third of her life but she used an electric one after the first few years.) I use a manual one that I cannot move so I need someone to push me. When my spouse and I were first learning this, he rammed me into so many metal door frames by misjudging the distance that I’d be aching by the time we got home again. We are better at it now. If I were working, it would be on me to figure out how to make that work. It certainly would not be on my co-workers.

        In my experience, random strangers will help in any way that they can, but I can’t just expect them to push me about. “Excuse me, I’d like to go look at the candles now. Would you push me over there?” None of these people were hired to be personal attendants. And those would need special training. I’m really surprised at how many people are saying that this should just be expected.

  21. M from NY*

    I don’t know if others missed the distinction in letter #3. OP said boss didn’t WANT to pay for upgraded wheelchair not that she couldn’t afford it. Sounds like a self inflicted problem that has an easy alternative. If shes not capable of moving herself then she needs motorized chair. How is she getting around at home? I would not be pushing her around. Her refusal to pay for her own supplies means she will also close her purse if someone is injured while pushing her. Doesn’t matter how loud she gets, with or without HR if everyone says no she will do what she needs to and stop using her staff as aides.

    For those that think this is no big deal then do it without voluntolding others. No one should have to disclose personal conditions to turn down an unreasonable request.

    [This tone is for THIS situation.]

    1. fposte*

      Well, if someone is injured while pushing her, it’s likely to be worker’s comp, not personal liability. And presumably she’s getting around at home same as she’s getting around in the office space–on her own in the chair or in a walker. It’s just when they need to get to a different building that she’s requesting help.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Keep in mind that a motorized wheelchair costs thousands of dollars; a manual wheelchair costs, at most, a few hundred, and that’s if you get a nice one. You’re thinking she should be paying literally 10x the cost to avoid inconveniencing her reports.

      1. M from NY*

        And how much will it cost when one is injured pushing her? How much will she contribute then?

        At end if the day the potential harm to others outweighs her desire to not spend money. As the injured party she needs to bear cost to get what she needs. If its really the insurance company nickle and diming over the wheelchair do you think they will cover employee hurt “helping” her? Boss needs to spend get time getting insurance company to approve the appropriate equipment or stay home. Again OP didn’t say boss couldn’t afford it. If boss will only pay for manual wheelchair thats her problem.

        If this was the sweet but low paid greeter that everyone was trying to keep working because she has no paid leave that’s would be a different scenario.

    3. James Buchanan Burn*

      Do you really think someone should have to pay out of pocket for a motorized chair they’re only going to be using for a month? That seems unbelievably wasteful. A motorized wheelchair costs more than my car!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s what I was thinking, but I don’t know how much more it would cost to do that. Maybe she has a budget issue at home that precludes it. Or maybe the insurance will only cover the manual chair rental.

  22. vanBOOM*

    RE: OP #4: “In other words, preemptively remind/shame them.”

    I cannot tell you how effective this strategy has been in preventing a wide variety of negative workplace situations! Septa Unella would be proud. SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

  23. OP # 3 Wheelchair*

    OP # 3 (wheelchair)
    She has a medical issue that causes her to injure herself 2 – 3 times a year. Basically she has lost the use of limb 2 times a year since I have worked with her. Some of the buildings she has meetings at, are about 2 blocks away. The software training requires her attendance, but she’s making an effort to use skype & conference calling when it’s applicable. One year some of the meetings were moved to our building. There the additional issue of her asking people that work for her to run personal errands for her, having a wage employee take her to physical therapy and counting it towards his hours worked. She will ask people to pick up food for her, take things to her home, etc., and not reimburse them for the cost. Most of our coworkers are refusing to drive her anywhere because they are terrified that she’ll fall getting in and out of the car. She has told me to do a few personnel errands once she returned to work, but it’s not part of my job description. Told her that I couldn’t push her, (just had surgery), and called HR. They contacted her to see how they can accommodate her upon her return and let her know what she can and not ask of her staff. She knows that that I called, and I’m getting some negative reactions from her on little things. She’s nick picking everything to death at present.

    She likes baiting people wanting a negative response so that she can get ugly. She has been called on the carpet a few times for treating staff has personnel assistants in the past. It’s a liability issue if someone that works for her, is asked to run an errand during working hours than has an accident. People are afraid to drive her anywhere or push her because of her tendency to fall.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      WHOA!!! So this changes the entire tone of your letter. It’s beyond taking her to a few meetings – I hope those calling your staff bad people for not helping her see this. I think she’s gone beyond asking for reasonable accommodations and by having staff run her errands on company time she is taking advantage of company resources as well.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      That makes a lot of sense. The real problem is not that she needs a wheelchair pushed to get to meetings. The problem is that she likes to treat her subordinates as personal servants, and is vindictive when balked. Being in a wheelchair just means that her demands escalate, and become more inappropriate, and people risk looking bad if they push back.

    3. animaniactoo*

      Report the retaliation to HR. Seriously. “Hey, manager knows that I called you, and since then every single thing I do is getting nitpicked to death.”

      Be prepared to bring examples, particularly if you can bring examples from both before and after you called HR.

    4. animaniactoo*

      Also, the not feeling so compassionate/understanding about her not wanting to buy a motorized wheelchair picture changes when it’s a situation of “she needs this for about 2 to 3 months every year”, vs a single temporary instance.

      However, I would caution against thinking you know that she can really afford it. She might spend a lot of money on her illness and then feel the need to splurge on a few luxuries for herself just so that all her money isn’t going towards her health, which can be a really depressing feeling.

    5. Mel*

      This sounds way beyond what’s reasonable, what’s required by Ada without even getting into whether it qualifies.

      A good rule of thumb is that an accommodation shouldn’t prevent others from doing their job unless you guys are swimming in money and consider paying someone to be her assistant reasonable.

      And if your company is okay with allowing others to help her those folks should be designated in advance and what exactly they help with should be spelled out. Obviously this is more something HR should be taking the lead on.

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Whoa. Frankly, this looks pretty ugly all the way around. Obviously, first and foremost, your boss is way out of line here, and it sounds like getting called on the carpet really has not had any effect on her behavior. This is not good.

      Similarly, though, it sounds like your company really isn’t doing that much for her either. These meetings are two blocks away?? That is a hell of a long stretch for someone to push themselves in a wheelchair when they’re not a full-time user. This is a situation where the company really needs to step up and make some more substantial accommodations, especially if this is a recurring issue.

      1. LQ*

        I wonder if the company isn’t stepping up because the boss isn’t asking for accommodations but instead just expecting her staff to do stuff for her. Hopefully the company steps way up now that they’ve been notified.

        1. OP # 3 Wheelchair*

          I mentioned to her that due to the distances she has to travel, that she could ask for a prescription from her doctor for a motorized vehicle and lease it for a few months. She refuses to go back & ask. She’s in a wheelchair or using a walker 4 – 6 months out of the year. And the same about requesting accommodation, refuses to do the documentation. She is not taking the first steps that will enable our employer to help. They cannot evaluate if the documentation isn’t submitted.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I’ve got 5 bucks that says she’s pissed and frustrated that she needs any of that, and so she’ll do her damnedest to get by without it. She’s just like all the other normal people, don’t you know? She is *not* so physically challenged that she’s someone who needs those kinds of things.

            Unfortunately, she can accept gracefully that she does, or she can do what she’s doing and alienate the heck out of a bunch of people in the process.

            (go ahead, ask me how I know this).

            If you can see through any of her permanent cranky bastard mode to have some compassion for that much, it might help you in figuring out how to address the things she asks for which are not part of your job, or how you approach her about others.

            1. OP # 3 Wheelchair*

              I am going ask how you know this?? I’ll take things to the post office for her, etc. I did ask her if she wanted something at Starbucks on the way in this morning (knowing she wouldn’t reimburse me). I’ll spend $5 – $6.00 to be kind. I do not like being asked to pick up something, pay for it, than not being reimbursed. The compassion is there, but once you do something for her, you are her “go t0 person” for all future requests. She’s a strange bird. When I first started working here I hated her because she was the devil to work with, would snap and snarl at you. Now sometimes I like her, other days she as the “big B pants on.” Actually her behavior has improved over the last few years and I respect her for recognizing it, and modifying it. But I do not want to be sucked in. People do for her and resent it. I have to work with her on a daily basis, when some only see her a few days a week due to their schedules. The nicky picky, pay back will last a few weeks, she’ll get her dig in while she can than it’ll fade away. She had one person that helped her quite a bit, she refused to give her a ride one day; it got extremely ugly, now they both hate each other.

              She just asked me to push her to another building a few minutes ago, she knows about the back problem and I have a medical accommodation at work regarding no lifting , etc. Just remind her and go on. It’s kind of sad in a way that she hasn’t been able to make a couple of good friends that are mutually supportive. I’ve always wondered about her childhood. She’s her own worse enemy.

              A few people mentioned small kindnesses. That I can handle, just don’t expect me to push you or run personal errands. I do agree with animaniactoo; she’s not ready to admit that she needs to find a more permanent solution to the repeated injuries.

              1. animaniactoo*

                His name was Grampa Will (although he never pulled the not paying people back thing – I wouldn’t let that stand either). He was a strong independent man who was used to being the one who everyone relied on, and he took the loss of his physical abilities and the independence that went along with them very very poorly. We loved him (a lot, I had banana pancakes yesterday morning just because I needed that taste connection, they were his specialty for us when we were kids), but managing him was a chore and a half.

                Calm and firm worked best for us, with occasional blow-ups and pushbacks when he went too far. Humor worked sometimes, other times it backfired and then you had to smooth that over. And we had a very specific conversation with him at one point about being so unpleasant that nobody wanted to spend time with him. He had a different motivator there in that he was desperately lonely for company and socializing, and did not want his family to stop showing up. You don’t have that motivation for your boss, but you might have some relevant points to pick up a thread there to discuss if you felt like it was worth a try.

                Watching the difference between the way that he and our other grandfather accepted their aging and physical limitations taught us all a lesson that I hope we never forget about how we want to handle it when our turn comes. My other grandfather actually remained *more* independent by accepting his aging and figuring out what adaptations gave him as much independence as he could get, so that might be another route that you can pursue (extremely diplomatically, of course).

    7. fposte*

      Yikes. I feel for her, because that kind of vulnerability is horrible, but you can’t have staff handle your personal non-work needs and I’m glad you called HR.

      However, while I understand that affects people’s feelings about pushing her wheelchair to a meeting, I would consider that a very different request. That one really is work related. It’s a shame she’s apparently kind of obnoxious about everything, but my personal high road would be pushing her to the meeting and pushing back on any other request. And looking for other opportunities, because it sounds like she’s pretty unpleasant whether she’s sitting or standing.

      1. Temperance*

        It sounds like this woman is extremely fragile and also extremely unpleasant. I would be afraid to push her anywhere, honestly. You’re stuck dealing with her for longer periods of time and a serious potential to hurt her or yourself.

        I don’t believe in the high road, though, FWIW. I think that it enables bullies and jerks to continue to bully and jerk their way around.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I don’t believe in the high road, though, FWIW. I think that it enables bullies and jerks to continue to bully and jerk their way around.

          I’m not the only one – thank you!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          She sounds exactly like the friend of a friend of mine–the woman is a HORRIBLE bully who has legit health issues but good god I am sick of her ordering my friend around. I’ve never even met her and I’d like to oops a cup of cold water over her damn head.

          I can’t do anything about it, though. Only my friend can. :\

      1. OP # 3 Wheelchair*

        We have them, but she ignores them. Gets slapped down. Discontinues for awhile, but it pops back up. She did stop using the staff to drive her and counting it as work time. I think, or she has gotten better at hiding it.

        Her boss views us all as adults, and that we are allowed to say no. She feels sorry for her & happy that she’s not asked to do for her I suspect. It’s a cycle.

  24. Whats In A Name*

    For #3 it might also want to be noted that she wants them the “push her to meetings in other BUILDINGS”…not down the hall but down sidewalks, potentially through cross walks, etc. I wonder about liability (as another commenter mentioned) if someone trips or lord forbid they tip her out of the chair if they hit a curb. I’d be exploring conference calls or webinars since it sounds like it involves going outdoors.

  25. Breakfast is Best*

    #5 – I am currently salaried and exempt. I make about $6,000 below the new threshold. If my status is changed to salaried non-exempt, does this mean I will make the same base salary even if I work less than 40 hours a week? This doesn’t happen often, but we get half days on Fridays in the spring and I was worried I would lose those due to the new law. It would be great to be paid overtime after 40 hours and not be docked pay for under 40 hours.

  26. Mel*

    I really don’t understand the consistent push to have this hard personal boundary between boss and subordinate. I know it’s not for some people and that there’s the possibility that it can cause problems, but just because something might go south doesn’t mean no one should do it. A lot of people are adult enough to understand that when you’re at work the roles are different. And those kinds of relationships can make you much happier at work and at home as long as you both understand beforehand that when you’re at work your roles are different. To me it’s like saying you should never do business with your friends or relatives even though many people do successfully.

    1. Mel*

      I think the reason I question the hard boundary advice is because all of the most successful people I know have more like three layers of relationships. Their closest which is usually really old friends and family. Casual friends which include many from their professional network that can help with work related stuff. And lastly professional acquintences who can’t or don’t want to become a casual friend.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        That is the case for me. And there is absolutely no overlap between any of those layers and my reports.

        The one person who I was casual friends in my group (drinks a couple times a year, occasional pet sitting, I know his husband, he’s met my adult offspring) and I have stopped associating outside work *entirely* since I became the person who does his performance evaluations and makes promotional decisions. I’ve seen too many people burned by the appearance of impropriety to do anything but keep a very, very wide berth and he understands that.

        We still engage in water-cooler type talk at work. Vacations and recipe swapping and ‘how’re the dogs?’ but that’s it.

        1. Mel*

          See I don’t buy the “appearance of favoritism” argument. You can shoot that down by calling them on it and making sure people have the same opportunities, showing them that your decisions are based on work related stuff, and that you follow the same decision making processes regardless of who is involved. As long as you’re comfortable explaining your decisions to anyone who questions them you have nothing to worry about.

          1. sometimeswhy*

            You can buy it or not but it’s the reality many of us live in whether we have evidence of our equitable decision-making processes or not.

            1. Mel*

              I have no problem with people having those perceptions. But I do have a problem with people who gossip and/or have no desire to seek the truth.

          2. animaniactoo*

            I’d say that in general, manager-employee relationships that become friendships which involve the level of going to each other’s homes for meals happen pretty organically. They develop over a period of time which usually involve things like having the same interest in something (or a few somethings) and going to grab a meal because conversation is always easy and pleasant and you want to enjoy more of the same during the workday. And from that comfort level might spring a plan to go do something together – hit a bookstore, see a movie featuring a particular actor or subject, an exhibit of something. Things that you previously discussed doing separately and one day say “Hey, why don’t we do that together?”, and so on until you get to a point where inviting them into your home or going to theirs to relax and socialize together just feels like a natural thing to want to do.

            Many never develop to that point, and the ones that do, you still need all along the way to be able to accept direction and discipline from them, and they need to be able to hold work boundaries firm and make sure to give direction, and discipline, and become super cautious about making sure that they are not overlooking other people who report to them out of a general feeling of familiarity and trust with the friend. Praise comes naturally between friends. Direction and discipline and purposeful lack of favoritism, not so much, so those are the key things that tend to fall by the way side when manager-employee friendships become a problem.

            If at any point along the *slow* development of that friendship, those things become an issue, yeah, people need to pull a plug on either the work relationship or the friendship. Usually, by the time people see the need to pull you are already at an awkward stage, and so people talk themselves out of it, rationalize away this or that. So they can justify their decisions to themselves, quite confidently, and still be quite wrong about it. From that standpoint, I think it’s pretty understandable why many people would rather just draw a hard boundary, rather than risk navigating that and getting it wrong or facing having to deal with an awkward situation which will probably not be resolved well no matter what attempts they make to ameliorate it.

          3. SevenSixOne*

            But all it takes to have the appearance of favoritism is ONE time that the Friend Of The Boss to get something the rest of the team doesn’t. It really doesn’t matter how equitably the boss made the decision, if Boss is rewarding Friend Of The Boss for going above and beyond, or if the choice was truly random, because it probably looks like favoritism to the rest of the team.

      2. sometimeswhy*

        To add, because I think that was unclear: I do have friends within my professional network both close and casual. Not one of them does or ever will report to me.

    2. Bob Barker*

      I mean, you’ve answered your own question with this:

      A lot of people are adult enough to understand that when you’re at work the roles are different.

      And a lot of people aren’t. The number of bosses with poor boundaries on this earth, you’re surprised that it’s safer for everyone to keep things professional? When one of you has the power and the other one doesn’t, the odds of it being an equal relationships are pretty poor. As I like to tell my mother at compulsory Christmas dinner: being expected to show up and be pleasant to people I don’t particularly like is called work. They have to pay me to get me to do it.

      Also, there are some people whose suppositories I flatly refuse to pick up at the pharmacy. Just, no. Boundaries are good.

      1. Mel*

        That’s funny. But you’re making it sound as though its better to avoid personal relationships than chance having great ones.

        I bet a lot of people out their hate their jobs so much in large part because they put up a wall at work and wonder why they feel isolated.

        1. Bob Barker*

          I mean, I guess you’ve never been support staff for a boss with no boundaries? Congratulations.

          I hate my job because I get regularly updated on the status of the colon health of a middle-aged man I’m not related to. He’s not even a bad guy (also, his colon remains healthy so far)! He is just a guy who effectively lives in a soap opera of his own making. He’s the patriarch, and we’re all the junior kinfolk in whose lives he is honor-bound to meddle. If you tell him a single personal detail, he’ll give you advice, and take it badly if you disagree or turn out not to have followed it. He is a champion drama llama, and totally unconscious of that fact, and he has power over me. What do you suggest I do, but build a (polite, evasive, “Oh no, I’m actually super boring!”) wall between him and me? I lied to him this summer about minor surgery (said it was just a day off, not sick time), just because it was less hassle than to have him “advise” me on my recovery.

          I’ve certainly made friends in the workplace, including with bosses, sometimes. But that’s something that requires a lot of perspective and time, to say nothing of the desire on both sides for it to happen. When the boss tries to force a relationship that the employee doesn’t want, you bet there are some walls that need to be built.

    3. Murphy*

      Just chiming in to say that I generally agree. I work to be fair with all my staff, but yup, there’s just one I’m closer to. We’ve worked together for years, I brought her over to my new department when I moved, she was at my wedding (my whole team at the time was there), she’s been to my house for dinner (both as an employee when I had the whole team over and as a friend in the year and a bit we weren’t working together). We just click. Can I still give her feedback? Yup. Do we still know who the boss is at work? Sure. But our friendship (while muted a bit now because she’s working for me again) is still there.

      I do think, however, that it helps that she (and my other staff) are all professional, adult, and top-notch workers so there’s not much “management” I need to do on a daily basis. Assign work and provide strategic direction, but no one needs to be performance managed and that does make the boundary easier to blur at times.

  27. LuvzALaugh*

    OP #4 Have you considered the information in the rumors may not be coming from HR. Remember the saying once one person knows it is no longer a secret. It is possible that other employees have shared their medical info with one person that works there or with one person another employee is friends with or related to and it got passed along. I wouldn’t make the assumption that it came from HR. Most companies do scrutinize who they hire in HR considering how much liability they face in respect to HR people being their representative. Not saying it never could happen or that their aren’t bad apples out there but HR gets blamed for a lot of things that just aren’t true a lot of the time.

    1. DJ*

      I was thinking the same thing. All it takes is for the individual to talk to some one other than HR. Or have a phone conversation in the wrong area. Or not pick up a print-out right away.

  28. I'm Not Phyllis*

    #1 I think this is mostly a way to leave the ball in your court. If you call after a few weeks or months (whatever feels comfortable to you) to extend an invitation, then by all means do. And if it doesn’t work out then you can take it as a sign that it was one of those “just something people say” moments. But like Alison said if you want to make a clean break that’s also fine – it happens all the time.

  29. animaniactoo*

    For OP2 – you’ve gotten a lot of really good advice here. On the front of “feeling awkward just socializing” – if you can see it as a function that enables better work, will that help? Because it often does. People take breaks because they’re tired of thinking about things, it gets stale because they’ve been looking at if for so long. Without those breaks they might miss something or not pursue a path because it just seems like so much of the same, but if they hadn’t just pursued 5 other paths that led to nothing, they might miss taking this similar one that actually does lead somewhere different.

    It works even better if you can take a break that is mental as well as physical – something that really focuses your concentration somewhere else, so that you’re not thinking about everything in a semi-conscious way. Socializing is a great avenue for those kinds of breaks, so as long as no one is overdoing it, you are probably actually helping them for an amount that is similar to what you’re getting out of it.

    For me personally – it also often happens that when I revisit something after taking a break from it, I realize that I’ve been continuing to kick it around at the back of my brain, and a solution has found itself while I wasn’t paying attention.

    1. OP#2*

      That make some sense, thank you. I have usually just switched to a different task whenever I want a break from the one at hand.

      Coming from part-time jobs in the service industry, where you’re on your feet pretty much the entire shift, its still hard to get used to getting paid more for a job where breaks are more encouraged and common.

      1. animaniactoo*

        To be blunt: It’s about retention. Service industry, they basically figure they can get another scrub who needs the money tomorrow and train them if need be for relatively little cost. They don’t care so much if they burn you out.

        A job that pays better tends to be paying that money against some skills/talent that they can’t turn around and higher somebody else for tomorrow – it would be a longer process – and therefore they want to encourage at least some strategies that will prevent burnout and will keep you around for a relatively longer time. They still don’t want you going overboard about it, but there’s a lot more leeway for whatever keeps you happy enough today and tomorrow to keep coming back.

        1. OP#2*

          Oh, that makes sense. I actually hadn’t thought about it quite so bluntly before. All I could see were a lot of immigrants and people of colour working on the floor with me, while only native English speakers rose to the ranks of team leader and beyond.

  30. FEJ*

    #1 – I do think staying in touch is useful for networking, but my last 2 job changes involved moving cities, which took the pressure off of having to physically meet up & come up with professional-but-no-longer-workplace-related small talk – instead I occasionally send relevant articles/funding announcements/online workshops they might be interested in/etc. to former coworkers. I feel like it’s a nice way of staying in touch but keeping it brief (the cover email usually just says ‘Saw this and thought you might be interested, hope all is well!’)

  31. stevenz*

    #4. I have had the same misgivings about HR in my current job. It depends on what you perceive as the culture of the organisation where you work. Here, for example, I feel a surveillance mentality, where management is keeping their eye on everybody’s every move, and keeping score. I will not talk to HR about any personal matter. I don’t trust them and I don’t think there is anything they can do for me anyway. I tried the EAP program – once – and decided I couldn’t – or wouldn’t – trust them either. Maybe that was unreasonable, maybe I’m getting paranoid, but the stigma against mental health issues is so strong that people can do a lot of damage to you if they want to hold that information against you. My immediate boss has already done that and it has contributed to a completely dysfunctional relationship with her. (Thank God she’s leaving soon!)

    I don’t have any advice, other than to be careful and think things through real well.

  32. SebbyGrrl*


    I don’t think anyone else has said quite this specifically – what liability does it open the company to if she were to become injured when another employee is pushing her.

    That would be my lead in “Hey HR or other Authority, I’m concerned that having her staff operate her wheelchair could be a serious insurance liability issue for the company should anything go wrong.” (It seems like a self propelled device would resolve that perfectly. – said slyly after).

    And if she’s half as drama as you note, has there been any bumps that you could use to argue the point effectively?

    Next time she asks or demands you say “I understand how frustrating it is to be in the chair and not mobile, but me touching your chair draws us into to an unspoken ‘contract’. If you were to get hurt while I am pushing you you could loose out on insurance/medical protection because they could say you failed to act in your own best interest. Maybe we should ask Supervisor, boss, HR see what they say.”

    You never said ‘No” and you never refused. I might go as ridiculously far as drawing up a little one sentence form that says “I __________ (crazy boss lady) absolve Jane Doe Op#3 of any responsibility for my safety while she is pushing my chair at my request. Sign here!” Do it every single time. (hang a clip board with the forms on her chair – sorry a little too far into fantasy land there.

    But her motivation is herself getting what she wants from whomever she has decided to try to convince/bully so if you do the “Yeeeaahhhh, nooo, we don’t want to you getting hurt and having no one to support you – losing your insurance, compromising your claim…so you’d REALLY LIKE TO HELP but sorry, I don’t want you to lose a resource you so clearly need.”

    She’s invested in this illness/injury cycle, it seems unlikely she’d not like to loose the coverage she does have.

    Good luck!

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